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May 24, 2004 - May 17, 2004

Monday, May 24, 2004


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From left to right, writers E. L. Doctorow, Kurt Vonnegut, and Rene Girard

IDIOTS. Why are so-called serious writers such idiots? Or am I getting ahead of myself here? Are you unaware that Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer are two of the stupidest men who ever lived? Has nobody told you that John Updike is a moron, Gore Vidal an imbecile, John Le Carré a box of rocks, Susan Sontag a drab with the IQ of a fencepost? Then allow me to elaborate. Facility with words is not intelligence. It's a knack. You wouldn't automatically assume that a superb carpenter is also a brilliant botanist. Or would you? Perhaps you've been taken in by the photographs on the back cover. Writers work on their eyebrows as much as they do on their syntax. They would dearly love you to believe that getting you to turn pages is the same sort of accomplishment as understanding the source of the universe. It isn't, though. There may have been a time when writers had to be philosophers as well as wordsmiths. But modernism changed all that. It was Hemingway -- dumber even than Picasso -- who rewrote the rules to prevent actual thinking from intruding on the process of writing literature. How dumb are writers? They almost all jeer at Hemingway these days, but they all still obey his rules: don't ever write about the meaning of life; write about the chipped teacup on the kitchen table instead. In fact, even the philosophers have adopted Hemingway's rules. They don't talk about meaning anymore; they talk about politics and sociology instead. (This is our excuse for directing you to this outstandingly laughable interview with Rene Girard, an exercise in mental masturbation so ridiculous that it just had to be shared...)

And so to our pedestrian topic for the day, the latest outbreak of 'wisdom' in the ranks of mediocre American scribblers. E. L. Doctorow is a great writer. Ask him. Look at those eyebrows. He tried to share his genius with the graduating seniors at Hofstra the other day. They booed him. Good for them. In the hierarchy of literature he's an ant. He should know when to shut up. Which is what reminded us of Kurt Vonnegut, the hack who never met a platitude too dead obvious to turn into a novel. He recently wrote an op-ed piece so mind-numbingly dopey that when it started circulating on the Internet, the folks at Snopes.com felt obliged to discover whether or not it had actually been written by the author of Slaughterhouse Five. It had.

How should one go about protecting one's self from such drivel? Just think of them as Demi Moore with a Thesaurus and self-important eyebrows. That might help.

The Day After Tomorrow

New York is going to turn into an ice cube.

BLOCKBUSTER. Just as we promised, we're going to really dig into this movie the day after tomorrow.




Sunday, May 23, 2004


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It's Tim Russert Month!



L'EMINENCE GRISE. We got a telegram from the Russert Media Empire (RME) by special courier last night. It informed us that today was our turn to promote Tim Russert and his new book. We should have been expecting it because he's been everywhere else for the past few weeks. He was on the Tonight Show. He was on the O'Reilly Factor. He was on Late Night with David Letterman. He was on Hannity and Colmes. He's featured on the Drudge Report every damn day -- interviewing Rumsfeld, lecturing Colin Powell's aide, arranging to receive a highly publicized subpoena in the Valerie Plame investigation. He was on Larry King, The View, the Today Show, Dateline, and Hardball, or if he wasn't we would be shocked to hear it. He was even on Jeopardy, where he won a grand total -- after Final Jeopardy, of course -- of $0 for not knowing how many senators there were in 1958. (We tried to help by shouting the right answer at the screen but Tim didn't hear us, and neither did Christie Whitman or Tavis Smiley.) He's probably coming to a mall or country fair in your neighborhood any day. So now that he's exhausted every other venue, we have to do our part.

If we'd a little more advance notice we could have been better prepared. As it is, we haven't read the book and don't own a copy. It's called Big Russ & Me and it's about him and his father. Or so we've heard. A few hundred times. But our disconcerting habit of dropping off to sleep when Tim starts talking has deprived us of the details. Fortunately, though, the Internet is brimming with Russert entries (76,000+), so we found a review in the New Yorker. After two of three longish opening paragraphs about himself and his father, reviewer Nicholas Lemann finally brought up the subject of Russert and his book. He said:

Big Russ & Me is not so much a self-examination, or even a dad-examination—very little in it could be honestly described as interesting—as it is a highly effective extension of the Russert brand. The book is written with Bill Novak, the celebrity ghostwriter, who is credited as “full partner.” The brand wouldn’t be so successful if it weren’t genuinely appealing, and Russert in these pages is characteristically forthright, unpretentious, respectful, and values-laden. And Big Russ himself functions less as a vivid character in a book than as an enhancer of his son’s mystique. Big Russ, it turns out, is a name conferred by Tim Russert on his father, not something that his friends called him. The senior Russert’s real name is—Tim Russert. At least nominally, he’s an invention of his son. Big Russ fades out somewhat as the book goes on, but every appearance, while presented as being illustrative of his good qualities (no filial ambivalence here!), literarily performs the function of making Tim look good, by reassuring us that he’s permanently connected to a father lode of realness.

One gets the feeling Lemann would have been happier if Russert had written a book called Nick & His Dad, but that doesn't seem reasonable to us, much like the rest of the tripe in the New Yorker these days. Our advice -- strongly supported, we might add, by the endorsements we received from the RME -- would be to disregard Mr. Lemann's somewhat arch analysis and buy the damn book. Tim's going to be on every talk show, game show, and news magazine until you do.

We'd like to offer some new information about Tim himself, just to prove what great researchers we are. We hunted around quite a bit and discovered that Tim was born on May 7, so this really is his month. Journalists seem to admire him, but not all of the audience does. Some of his critics know that he's a shill for the Republicans. We found this out from a college senior named Andy who wants to be a recording company executive. His site is worth reading because rarely in our experience has any writer said the same thing so many times in virtually the same language. Some of Tim's critics know that he's a shill for the Democrats. We learned this at a site called BoycottLiberalism.com, which sounds like an interesting idea. It also sounds like it's not working.

What else? Tim has his own page at the International Movie Database site. He has played himself in a TV show on at least one occasion. At another site called MediaWhoresOnline.com, Tim has the honor of being listed as the Number One media whore. Not bad for a kid from Buffalo who went to Canisius High School, eh?

We know we haven't done nearly enough by this superstar luminary of journalism. The truth is, we just never really paid much attention to him before. Way back in our Year 2000 edition of Shuteye Nation, we put down everything we knew at the time.

Tim Russet. Leading TV journalist and host of Meat for the Press. Is he the potato Dan Quail couldn't spell? No? Oh. That's all we had to say about him for now.

Obviously we were wrong about the potato thing, which we're sorry about. But it doesn't leave us much more to say. We'll try to do better next time around.





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A Tale of Two Bikes

Bush's mountain bike (top or left) and Kerry's Cape Cod cruiser (bottom or right)

GRACE. President Bush suffered some "cuts and bruises" after a fall from his mountain bike Saturday. According to the Associated Press:

Bush was on the 16th mile of a 17-mile ride when he fell, Duffy said. He was riding with a military aide, members of the Secret Service and his personal physician, Dr. Richard Tubb.

"He had minor abrasions and scratches on his chin, upper lip, nose, right hand and both knees," Duffy said. "Dr. Tubb, who was with him, cleaned his scratches, said he was fine. The Secret Service offered to drive him back to the house. He declined and finished his ride."

Bush was wearing his bike helmet and a mouth guard when the mishap occurred. Duffy said he didn't know exactly how the accident happened.

"It's been raining a lot and the topsoil is loose," the spokesman said. "You know this president. He likes to go all out. Suffice it to say he wasn't whistling show tunes."

Unaccountably, Bush failed to curse at the Secret Service agents who witnessed his tumble. Further, he failed to claim that he never falls. The White House spokesman, Trent Duffy, wouldn't confirm that these mental lapses were being studied by the president's physicians, though a Kerry campaign aide questioned the administration's reticence on this point, noting that the Secret Service has not announced an investigation of the offending bike.

"If it's not the fault of Secret Service agents or the bike," said the aide, "then the accident can only be due to the president's own deficiencies. These should be looked into by qualified specialists for the good of the nation."

Following a bicycle mishap suffered by Kerry some weeks ago, the senator's custom-built Cape Cod cruiser was investigated, determined to be culpable, and "put down humanely," according to the Kerry campaign's press office.


Kerry with his cruiser in happier days (left) and upon learning of its demise (right)

Meanwhile, Drudge is reporting that when told of Bush's accident, Kerry told [sic] reporters in front of cameras, 'Did the training wheels fall off?'... Reporters are debating whether to treat it is as on or off the record..





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Palme D'Or for Michael Moore


Moore tried his best to take a bow at the Cannes Film Festival

FAHRENÔUT 9/11. Basking in the uniquely French glory of winning a gold medal for "outstanding vitriol by an ugly American," Michael Moore headed for home today to begin a nationwide boasting campaign on behalf of his new movie.

In one sense he dodged a bullet. Fahrenòut 9/11 narrowly edged out the second place winner, Fallacie 3/11, a documentary by French filmmaker Phillipe de Grenouille proving that the recent terror attack in Spain was not provoked by Franco-European appeasement and corruption. The work drew ovations almost as long as Moore's, particularly in sequences featuring the animated disembowelling of George W. Bush and some of the longest anti-American screeds by French politicians ever put on film.

In another sense, Moore didn't quite dodge a bullet. Racing for his connecting flight to New York at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, Moore lumbered through the pride and joy of modern French architecture known as Terminal 2E. The ensuing disaster has been covered in detail elsewhere, but it can be reported that Moore suffered no more than a few "cuts and bruises."


Terminal 2E moments after Moore hurried through it





Saturday, May 22, 2004


INSTAPUNK052204REV

The Day After Tomorrow

Tornadoes are going to destroy Los Angeles

COMING SOON. We're going to discuss this movie the day after tomorrow.





Friday, May 21, 2004


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Nancy Pelosi Speaks Out! (click here)



WASHINGTON FOLLIES. What's gotten into the Speaker Guy all of a sudden? For years we get hardly a peep from him as Daschle and Kennedy and McDermott and Schirmer and Rangel scorch the President and Republicans in general for everything under the sun. Then, within the space of just a few days, he takes on both McCain and Pelosi.

First, he lit into the Senior Panderer from Arizona:

Asked Wednesday about McCain's remarks, Hastert, who was rejected for military service because of a bad shoulder, first joked: "Who? Where's he from? A Republican?"

Then, more seriously, he said: "If you want to see sacrifice, John McCain ought to visit our young men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda (two Washington area military hospitals). There's the sacrifice in this country. We're trying to make sure that they have the ability to fight this war, that they have the wherewithal to be able to do it. And at the same time, we have to react to keep this country strong not only militarily but economically. We want to be able to have the flexibility to do it. That's my reply to John McCain."

And here's what he had to say about Pelosi's attack on the President:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Pelosi "has the right to disagree with President Bush.''

"But her comments questioning the president's competence cross the line, '' Hastert said. "Was it incompetence that put Saddam Hussein in jail? Was it incompetence that disbanded the Taliban? Was it incompetence that spurred the fastest economic growth rate in 20 years? Was it incompetence that created the highest home ownership rate in history?''

We doubt that he'll choose to go another round with McCain, but this is quite a lot of progress, considering what we said about him in Shuteye Nation back in 2000:

The Speaker Guy. The second most powerful man in the United States of Ameria, which means that we must be talking about, uh, uh... Is it Humbert? Hissifit? Uh, sorry, can't think of it just now. If you find out, please let us know.

So we finally know his name, but we still can't figure out what's behind this unprecedented bravery. Is it Wheaties? Steroids? Or is it just that all the screaming and shrieking from the anti-Bush crowd interrupted his four-year nap? We'll let you know if we find out anything, but we're pretty confident that any show of guts by Republicans in Congress must be an aberration, not a trend.





instapunk052104add THE ISLAMIC CHALLENGE. Over at Target Blank, David Scribner has published a neat little essay in response to a challenge from Osama Bin Laden. His line of argument is worth reading in toto, but his conclusion should whet the appetite:

I am left with a feeling in my gut that, in order to defeat militant Islam, it is only necessary to read the Koran. A lot. Out loud.

Having tried this particular exercise, I tend to agree.




Thursday, May 20, 2004


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TWISTING IN THE WIND. You're trailing in the polls, your approval rating's at an all-time low, the mass media are after your head, your opponent is wooing members of your own party to be his running mate, conservatives are sitting on their hands, there's another nasty book out about you, and there's a new scandal photo out of Iraq every single day. What can you do but... dance.




Wednesday, May 19, 2004


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THE FUTURE. There is something I call the invisible parenthetical. It shows up most often in election analysis, though not exclusively. It also makes intermittent appearances in assessments of the Iraq War. Its purpose is to signify that can of worms which remains stubbornly unopened. There's a good example in Tony Blankley's latest column:

We have the strength — military, economic, cultural, diplomatic, (dare I include the strength of our religious faith, also?) — to persist around the world unto victory — for generations if necessary.

But all this potential capacity for victory can only be brought into full being by a sustained act of collective will. It is heartbreaking, though no longer perplexing, that the president's political and media opposition want the president's defeat more than America's victory. But that is the price we must pay for living in a free country. (Sedition laws almost surely would be found unconstitutional, currently — although things may change after the next terrorist attack in America.)

It's the second parenthetical we're concerned with here, the one that alludes to the radical change in circumstances represented by another 9/11, or larger, attack. Blankley's diction differs from most in that he doesn't use the word 'if'; it's clear he has no doubt that it's coming, and the only question is when. Whether we admit it or not, I believe most of us agree with this gloomy prediction. We know that our borders are still porous, the INS still can't keep track of all those expired student visas, and increasingly, the various Islamo-fascist terror plots in other parts of the world are reported to involve the supposedly nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Was it the mass media's deliberate intention or our collective turning away that caused the bomb plot in Jordan to disappear so quickly from public view? A plan to kill as many as 80,000 people with explosives and chemical agents -- does this not merit our interest?

That's why I call it the invisible parenthetical. It's there in plain sight, the asterisk that says everything we're thinking about right now could be rendered void in a single moment, but we're not going to think about that right now. Politicians and pundits put it in almost ritually, as if they were knocking wood to keep bad luck away, but the ballooning dimensions of horror that live inside the mention are closed off from scrutiny by protective brackets.

But I have another name for it too: the presidential parenthetical. From this perspective, it's the clearest indication of just how far away most of us are from seeing the world situation the way President Bush has to see it. For him the "next attack" can be no aside or sotte voce appendix. It is, in many respects, the only topic of importance. We don't like to imagine, but he has to imagine, the reality and the cascading consequences of an attack that kills 80,000 Americans.

What happens on that day? Compared to its impact 9/11 will be seen in hindsight as only a ripple, a warning not heeded. There won't be space in 10 years of New York Times editions to honor the dead with individual eulogies. Panic and the interdependencies of technological infrastructure will plunge the United States, and the world, into an instant economic depression.. If such an event were to happen the day after tomorrow or the day after a month from now, what would become of all our earnest editorializing about Abu Ghraib, the role of the U.N., the shocking $25 billion overrun in occupation costs, the need to win hearts and minds in the 'moderate' Muslim world, the dangers of the patriot act, the disputed basis of the war in Iraq, the jobless recovery, gas prices, the 9/11 commission report, and Bush's attendance record in the National Guard?

All would be swept away. We would confront images of death so widespread that almost everyone in the country would know one of the victims personally. A major city would be paralyzed, gripped in a sudden crisis of survival as water, electricity, food, and medical care became unavailable for hundreds of thousands of citizens. The president would confront a near universal demand for revenge on a massive, nuclear scale. Pundits who are at this moment writing sober columns about the need for Rumsfeld's dismissal will propose lists of targets -- Mecca, Medina, Damascus -- requiring immediate annihilation. Those who continue to oppose self defense on the basis that America somehow deserves the wrath of dark age fanatics (there will be some, and you can meet them today at Moveon.org and Democraticunderground.com) (but notice who's parenthetical now) will be reviled and persecuted by people who once marched with them in anti-war demonstrations. The editorial columns of newspapers will bulge with indignant outcries about why it is taking so long to retaliate, to seal our borders, to clamp down on the Arab autocracies who are breeding mass murderers with impunity. And when the evidence indicates that the plot was hatched and harbored in Iran (Syria), the chattering experts will demand to know why nothing was done before it was too late.

Does this day of transformation seem far-fetched? Of course it doesn't. We the people just don't want to think about it. Maybe we can't think about it. But the President of the United States has to think about it. It is already real to him. He experienced 9/11 from the perspective that none of us has had, as the one who is responsible for leading the country through the mess. He knows what that is like, which is why we can demean his intelligence all we want to in our hubris; the truth is, in this respect, he is the only intelligent person among us right now. He knows that every sacrifice is worth making to prevent that impending horrific day from coming. He knows that America the Free is impossible to defend through sheer defense. That's why he took the fight to the terrorists at once and why it doesn't matter which reason he picked for taking out Saddam. He fought in Iraq the way the allies fought in North Africa in 1942, because it was a way to engage the enemy right now. He knows it doesn't matter if the Europeans whine and splutter because they will wail with misery after the economic crash caused by mass death in the land of the hated Americans.

What does he see that we don't? Body bags. Thousands upon thousands, if not millions, of the slippery black lozenges that used to be mothers, fathers, children, marines, airmen, and seamen, bags filled and buried on his watch in such numbers that the casualties we are experiencing now seem not reckless but prefatory, the scattered shots of the phony war in the days before blitzkrieg awakened a sleeping nation.

We must try to see those body bags too. If we can't, all our convictions about what's right, what's wrong, what's important, what isn't, are likely to be wrong. Dead wrong.




Tuesday, May 18, 2004


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JOBS AND SUCH. One of our faithful readers has written in to ask InstaPunk to say a few words about the economy. The Democrats keep talking about how bad the economy is, he notes, even though the economy is doing well by most measures. And they're hammering George Bush every day about all the jobs that have been lost. What, he wonders, does InstaPunk think about all this?

Well, InstaPunk laughs whenever a politician uses the word "I" and the term "create jobs" in the same sentence. What images come to mind when John Kerry intones, "I will create 20 million new jobs in eight years"? A Hollywood montage of Kerry in a hardhat digging the first shovelful of earth in a new dam project, Kerry bent over blueprints of a new supertanker at the shipyard, Kerry in a surgical mask supervising the manufacture of the newest and fastest microprocessor yet, Kerry in a straw hat piloting a John Deere tractor in the fields of Iowa, Kerry with his thinking cap on, devising the next high technology industry that will fuel years of economic growth...

It's all ridiculous. Presidents don't create jobs. They don't run the economy. They have less power over it than the federal reserve chairman does. They have a few tools they can use to try to influence the economy, although most of these consist of asking congress to spend more or less money, cut or raise taxes, and monkey with the minimum wage. Beyond this, they can negotiate trade agreements and serve a facilitating role in finding overseas markets for American business. And that's about it.

Now let us consider all the things a president has no control over. He can't do much , for example, about droughts, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other acts of God or demons. He can't do much about the billions of good and bad decisions made by companies and entrepreneurs in their day to day pursuit of prosperity. He also can't do much about the global economy that everywhere impacts American business prospects.

He certainly can't do anything about the stagnant European economy, which depresses the overseas opportunity for American business. The Europeans work about 35 hours a week, show up about 200 days a year, and make exorbitantly high wages so they can pay the exorbitantly high taxes that pay for all the Europeans who don't work at all. On top of this, the Europeans have a steeply declining birth rate. Their economies aren't going to be growing anytime soon.

The president can't do anything about the boom and bust cycles of the Asian economies, which are currently more bust than boom because they tend to be chronically lacking in either natural resources (Japan, Taiwan, Singapore) or capital (China, Phillipines, Malaysia).

He can't do much about the other American economies either. Canada is locked into a socialist bureaucracy that spends money faster than Canadians can earn it. Mexico's only economic strategy is sending all its workers here, because there aren't any jobs at home. South America suffers from European-style lethargy combined with the kind of political stability one might expect from the Phillipines.

The old Soviet states still don't have any economies to speak of, just gangsters and crude barter systems. They can't seem to do anything about it. How could the American president?

And no one can do anything about Africa.

The biggest economic role played by a president of the United States is to take the blame when things go south and to (try to) take credit when things go well.

The funniest part of all of this is that everyone knows it. Every four years, though, we go through this period of hysterical amnesia in which we abandon common sense and converse gravely about how well or poorly the president has "managed" the economy.

Bah. That's what InstaPunk says.




Monday, May 17, 2004


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Two Peas in a Pod.

Black is the fashion color this year at Cannes -- if your surname is Moore or Kerry.

STARRY-EYED. Despite the fact that he has been largely discredited on both the right and the left of the political spectrum, Michael Moore (see the other picture above) is drawing oohs and ahs for his latest filmic blunderbuss from the critics in attendance at the Cannes Film Festival. A sample:

Even those skeptical of Moore, who has drawn criticism that he skews the truth to fit his arguments, were impressed.

``I have a problematic relationship with some of Michael Moore's work,'' said James Rocchi, film critic for DVD rental company Netflix, saying he found Moore too smug and stunt-driven in the past. ``There's no such job as a standup journalist.''

Yet in ``Fahrenheit 9/11,'' Moore presents powerful segments about losses on both sides of the Iraq war and the grief of American and Iraqi families, Rocchi said.

``This film is at its best when it is most direct and speaks from the heart, when it shows lives torn apart,'' Rocchi said.

Maybe there's something special in the air at the French Riviera that sunders men from their judgment and insight. Or maybe it's more pedestrian than that: too much eye candy simply rots the higher processing functions of the brain.

At any rate, it's time for a reminder about Michael Moore. His Lowness has not merely been criticized in the past. He has been taken apart, exposed as a fraudulent documentarian, and proven a vicious slanderer. Left-leaning Spinsanity.com has found egregious errors and misrepresentations in his written works. And a law professor named David T. Hardy has deconstructed Moore's malefic sleight of hand in film works such as Bowling for Columbine. Hardy has also undertaken a dispassionate analysis of the pathological nature of Moore's personality, allowing readers to decide for themselves whether Moore is a malignant narcissist or a full blown sociopath.

We're not going to acknowledge Moore every time he raises his hand for more attention. But from time to time we will repost these links because no one should make the mistake of assuming that we're dealing with a garden variety leftist here. We're dealing with someone who may be purely evil. We do assume that Professor Hardy will continue with his excellent work.





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